I suppose I had never really thought about the why behind Halloween. Why do kids dress up and beg for candy? So when I went to explain to my son what this day was about that everyone was so excited for, I found myself grasping at straws. I realized that it all comes down to the candy, these days. More accurately, I suppose, it comes down to trick-or-treating which, at the end of the day, is about begging for candy. So if halloween is all about candy, how do you get through the holiday without creating a candy addict?
In thinking about how to handle this, I started from the position that I wasn’t going to forbid candy. For the first year of his life, I made a conscious effort to not give him any added/refined sugar. At his first birthday, he smashed the hell out of the cake and ate some, but didn’t seem overly interested. By his second birthday this summer he had certainly developed a taste for cake (and cookies and ice cream and SMORES. Oh does he love a good s’more). The rules are that he gets one special treat every so often. He now knows that birthdays = cake so he’s SUPER excited for birthdays. And will sometimes sing you happy birthday and then demand cake. But in general he either “gets it” or, more likely, follows the rules, but either way he’s cool with it. I don’t know how I managed to get this to happen, but I think it’s about consistency, how you frame it to the kid, and ALLOWING it. Sometimes.
So how do we handle halloween? I turned to my tried-and-true child feeding guru Ellyn Satter for advice. Of course, she has long said that forbidding anything is not the answer (to anything). Instead she encourages moderation of all things, including candy, and research is starting to back her up. An old article on her site, which I couldn’t find because either the link is broken or it has been removed, suggested that you give your child unrestricted, unlimited access to halloween candy for the first two days and then restrict it to meal and snack times. This allows the child to determine how much is too much and teaches moderation. She emphasizes that the parents must be modeling moderation and healthy eating habits year-round to make this sort of ‘candy free-for-all’ work.
Usually I’m ALL ABOUT ELLYN. All about her. You’re going to hear lots about her. But this wasn’t jiving with what I had planned to do. Not to mention, research has shown that giving kids unrestricted access to Halloween candy may lead to them to ignoring satiety cues and to chronic overindulgent behavior. The study mentioned above, everything in moderation, is more in line with where we are in our house.
As of this minute, Toby has still never had candy. Like I mentioned above, he has certainly discovered his sweet tooth, but he’s had (cup)cakes and cookies and ice cream, but he’s never had candy simply because I don’t especially like candy so it’s never what I would choose. Our plan for his halloween candy is to let him choose one piece of candy and donate the rest. It’s in keeping with how we handle other special treats so I don’t think it will be any more or less special than any other treat. That was the plan, at least. After his very exciting day that included a halloween party at school, visiting Grammy and PopPop’s house, and then trick-or-treating, but, notably did NOT include a nap, he had a meltdown of epic proportions and was asleep by 6:45. So we’ll see if he remembers the candy tomorrow. If he asks, we’ll give him a choice of one piece and we’ll see how it goes…!